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Posts Tagged ‘aladdin prefabs’

“I Was The Petted Daughter of a Rich Man…”

November 21st, 2012 Sears Homes No comments

“Look at those prices!”

That’s probably the #1 comment I hear from people as they browse the pages of an old Sears Modern Homes catalog.

Why were Sears kit homes priced so incredibly low?

Well, they weren’t really. Like everything else in history, the prices of early 20th Century housing have to be looked at in context.

One context to consider is taxation. In 1918, only the very wealthy paid federal income tax. In fact, only 5% of Americans paid any income tax at all. If your employer paid you $15 a week, you took home $15 a week.

The other issue is inflation. Pervasive, savings-eroding inflation has not always been a way of life in America.

In the 1930s, President Franklin D. Roosevelt took the first step that moved us off the gold standard. It was a desperate attempt to re-inflate the sagging dollar. In 1933, Roosevelt issued Executive Order #6102, requiring Americans to deliver their gold to the Federal Reserve.

At the time, law required that Federal Reserve notes (aka “dollars”) had to be backed by 40% gold reserves held in the vaults at the Federal Reserve. That was our first disconnect from a true gold standard. The second came in 1971 when President Nixon permanently disconnected us from the gold standard.

After that, the Federal Reserve was free to print as much money as they felt was needed. And it was (not coincidentally) in the 1970s when inflation hit double digits.

A stable (non-inflating) economy made it far easier for people to save up their dollars over a period of years and eventually purchase a home. (Inflation rewards those who borrow and penalizes those who save.) In the early 1900s, taking on debt of any kind was considered foolhardy, dangerous and even reckless.

There was no “rush to buy” because the price of housing (and the value of dollars) was fairly stable. Young couples took their time and often spent many, many years saving up to buy a home.

The third historical context that needs to be considered is simplicity. Take a look the Sears Kismet (shown below). This house has 520 square feet with two bedrooms that measure 8′ by 9′. I’m not sure, but I think a FEMA trailer is bigger than that.

The fourth issue is building codes (a subset of simplicity, really). It was estimated that a kit home cost 30-40% less than a comparable stick-built home. The average joe could order his dream home out of the Sears Roebuck catalog, and within 90 days, his 12,000-piece kit would be delivered to the train station. Many locales did require building permits, but it was nothing like the process is today.

The building permit was - above all - a way for the city/county to make sure that no opportunity for new taxes was overlooked.

Homeowners often installed their own plumbing, electrical, heating and mechanical systems.  And these systems were simple. Fuse boxes were 30-amp service, with one outlet in each room (if that!). Plumbing consisted of a sink in the kitchen and one bathroom. Maybe. Heating systems were often “pipleless” which was a nice way of saying it was a massive space heater in a center hallways.

Houses were much smaller and simpler, and building codes were quite lax.

Still want an $800 house?  :)

Dollar for dollar, the Katrina Cottages offered by Lowes were comparable. These were very basic, very small kit homes selling for $20,000 or so (depending on model). Interestingly, they’re no longer available.

The world has changed since Sears first offered these kit homes in 1908. Most folks today would not find The Kismet suitable. And how many people have the skills to build a 12,000-piece kit? And I don’t know of any city in America where you could build a small house without a whole lot of government intrusion and/or oversight.

But I digress.

The main point is, wages in the 1910s and 1920s were a fraction of today’s incomes. According to American Carpenter and Builder Magazine (December 1912), skilled carpenters in Chicago were earning 65 cents an hour and plumbers were making 75 cents an hour.

In the early days, Ladies’ Home Journal was a magazine devoted to helping women get into a home of their own. Each issue was filled with stories from people who had overcome financial adversities and bought or built their own house on tiny incomes.

Some stories had headings such as, “How a wife did it herself,” and “Bought her own home with nine children and $800 a year income.”  These stories paint a vivid word picture of how much toil and sacrifice pre-World War I families endured to have a home of their own.

The following story appeared in the October 1903 Ladies’ Home Journal and was the winning entry for the magazine’s series, “How some families have saved for their own homes.”

It’s a wonderful story that really demonstrates the sacrifice involved in purchasing a home at the turn of the last century. The wages mentioned in this piece lend some additional insight to the dollar values of the day, and help explain the low prices of homes offered in the Sears catalogs.

We planted a garden and my husband worked it himself. He [arose] every morning at about four and worked [in the garden] until time to go to the shop - about two hours.  We’d sell the vegetables at market, keeping only a minimum for ourselves.

We could not afford to buy a sewing machine, so I rented an old-fashioned hand machine at $3 a year and had to turn the wheel with one hand and guide the work with the other.  I would sew every night (taking in work for hire) never retiring earlier than one o’clock.  I got up at five every morning.

So much work came to me that [many] nights, I would sit up until daybreak, snatch an hour’s nap, then get up to cook breakfast  My husband would get up when I retired, work his garden, split the wood, build a fire in the kitchen stove, bring in enough water for the day (we had no well) and then set the coffee pot to boil. I did the washing and ironing and made my own soap.

Three years thus rolled away. My husband’s wages went up to $8 a week but we still practiced the most rigid economy and cut off some of our necessities. Our cow had a calf and when he was one year old, we killed him and sold the meat.

To clothe my little boy, I took my husband’s cast-off clothing, turned it wrong side out and cut out the best portions, making the boy’s clothes.

At the end of seven years, my husband’s wages had increased to $9 a week. After seven years of struggle and extreme economy, toil and labor, today finds us with a comfortable home, horses and cows.

As for myself, before my marriage I never knew the value of money as I was the petted daughter of a rich man.

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In the early 1900s, Ladies Home Journal was a housing magazine for women.

In the early 1900s, Ladies' Home Journal was a housing magazine for women.

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The magazines pages were filled with articles on how to buy a nice house.

The magazine's pages were filled with articles on how to build or buy a nice house.

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In the early 1900s, houses were cheap, but so were wages.

In the early 1900s, houses were cheap, but so were wages. In 1920, these women (sorting incoming orders for Montgomery Ward) probably didn't make $1,000 a year. In 1920, the average teacher's salary was $920 a year.

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Heating systems were very primitive compared to todays modern furnaces and boilers. The pipeless furnace was hugely popular. It would be set in the crawlspace or basement near the center point of the house. The living room would be tropical, while the folks upstairs could see their breath.

Heating systems were very primitive compared to today's modern furnaces and boilers. The "pipeless furnace" was hugely popular. It would be set in the crawlspace or basement near the center point of the house. The living room would be tropical, while the folks upstairs could see their breath.

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The Kismet, as shown in the 1919 catalog.

The Kismet, as shown in the 1919 catalog.

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Could

Pretty small house. Could you raise five kids in the house? Many folks did. There was the parent's bedroom and the kids' bedroom. If you were really fancy, you might get a three-bedroom house with a girls' bedroom and a boys' bedroom.

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This Kismet in Elmhurst, Illinois is a cutie, but its pretty small.

This Kismet in Elmhurst, Illinois is a cutie, but it's pretty small. And it's had a substantial addition added onto the back of the house.

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To learn more about Sears Homes, click here.

To buy your loved one the PERFECT Christmas gift, click here!

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The Sears Silverdale in Headache, Illinois

August 27th, 2012 Sears Homes 5 comments

Well, that’s what my husband calls it. In fact, it’s Hettick, Illinois, a small town in central Illinois, about 60 miles north of St. Louis, Missouri.

When I told Hubby about the find, the West Virginia filters on his hearing translated Hettick into “Headache.”

The Silverdale is an interesting house, because it looks like every early 20th Century farmhouse on every rural route in the Midwest. In my travels, I’ve probably seen dozens of them, but discounted most of them, because it’s so hard to positively identify them.

Do you have a Silverdale in your town? Please send me a photo!

Edited to add: A reader noticed that this house in Hettick, IL is actually a better match to the GVT version (#167)! I hope to add more-better photos in a couple days!

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The Silverdale as seen in the 1921 catalog.

The Silverdale as seen in the 1921 catalog.

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1916 catalog

The Silverdale also appeared in the 1916 catalog.

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The Headache House (well, Hettick, actually).

The Headache House (well, Hettick, actually).

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Another view

Another view of the Silverdale in Hettick.

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Floorplan 1921

Floorplan for the first floor.

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Second floor silverdale

Second floor of the Silverdale. Note, there's no livable space over the kitchen. Back in the day, the room over the kitchen was considered uninhabitable, due to heat and smells that wafted from the kitchen below.

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house hosue testimonial

There are more than a few Silverdales around.

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house house house

Mr. Egan and Wife seemed to be pretty happy with their Silverdale.

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Typical

Typical hinge found in Sears kit home. This was found in the Silverdale in Hettick.

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Silverdale

An old glass window (with diamond muntins) has survived the remodelings.

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To read about the Sears Homes in Carlinville, click here.

To learn more about why I was in Hettick, click here.

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Have You Seen This House? (Part 5)

May 2nd, 2011 Sears Homes 3 comments

Here in Norfolk, we have 16 little bungalows that were originally built at another location, and then moved here (by barge) sometime after The Great War ended in 1918. For years, that’s pretty much all that was known about them.

Last month, we learned that 3,000 miles away in Dupont, Washington, there are dozens of identical bungalows, built by Dupont for the dynamite factory there.  Thanks to Lee and Joh from the Dupont Historical Museum in Dupont, Washington, I now have a vintage newspaper article that says the little houses were built in 1909.

And now there’s a new wrinkle.

Indefatigable researcher Mark Hardin has found another neighborhood of these “Ethel Bungalows” (our pet name for these little houses) in a little village just outside of Butte, Montana. (It was Mark who found the houses in Dupont, too.)

So, our Ethel Bunaglow in Norfolk (which came from somewhere else) is a spot-on match to the company houses in Dupont, Washington and Butte, Montana.

We know that Dupont often turned to Aladdin kit homes to provide them with houses for their workers. We know that Dupont used Aladdin to provide housing at their sites in Carney’s Point, NJ, Old Hickory, TN, and Hopewell, VA. According to local lore, Dupont also used Aladdin to provide houses for their workers at their guncotton factory in Penniman, Virginia.

It’s looking more and more likely that our “Ethels” came that guncotton factory in Penniman, Virginia (now the site of Cheatem Annex, a military installation). Dupont built hundreds of houses for the workers, and purportedly, some of those houses were moved after The Great War. This fits nicely with the story of the our Ethels in Norfolk.

Norfolk historian David Spriggs did some digging and found that the Norfolk lots which are now home to our “Ethels” were purchased by George P. Hudson on April 14, 1922, and with a little more digging, he found that George P. Hudson was was listed in the 1925 city directory as “President of Hudson Transportation Co. and New Home Corporation.”  The business of Hudson Transportation Company was listed as, “Lighters and Barges.”

As David says, who would be in a better position to move 16 houses from Penniman to Norfolk than a man who owned a company called, “Hudson Transportation Co. and New Home Corporation”?

And who says history isn’t fun?  :)

And yet, many unanswered questions remain.

If you’ve any information to contribute, please post a note in the comment’s section below!

House

One of our mystery bungalows on 51st Street. Photo is courtesy of David Spriggs and may not be reused or reprinted without permission from David Spriggs.

Another

Good shot of the two bungalows on 51st Street. This photo is courtesy of David Spriggs and may not be reused or reprinted without permission from David Sprggs.

house

This is one of the houses in Riverview that's in mostly original condition. The little dormer on the side was added in later years.

Close-up of railing

Close-up of railing

Close-up of dormer

This dormer window is a pretty distinctive feature.

another Ethel

Another "Ethel Bungalow" in Riverview

Aladdin promoted itself to companies as a supplier of industrial housing. It was believed that providing housing for workers created a more stable workforce. And that was probably true.

Aladdin promoted itself to companies as a supplier of industrial housing. It was believed that if a company provided housing for its employees, this would create a more stable workforce. And that was probably true. Dupont turned to Aladdin to supply homes for Hopewell, Virginia and Carney Point, New Jersey and Old Hickory, TN. (1919 Aladdin catalog)

To contact Rose, please leave a comment below.

To learn more about the kit homes in Norfolk, click here.

To learn more about Sears Homes, click here.

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Have You Seen This House (part 2)

April 15th, 2011 Sears Homes 3 comments

Norfolk is home to 16 of these little bungalows (see below), which were moved to their resting place in Riverview and Highland Park from another location.

They’re fairly distinctive little houses, and the $64,000 question is, where did they come from?

Did they come from Hopewell? That’s one popular story, and it’d be especially interesting because Hopewell had hundreds of Aladdin kit homes, ordered by Dupont for their workers. (The factory in Hopewell manufactured gun cotton.)

Maybe they came from Penniman, Virginia, where DuPont built 600+ homes for their workers (now Naval Weapons Station Yorktown and Cheatham annex). DuPont again turned to Aladdin to supply those houses, as well. (And this was one of the largest collections of Aladdin Homes in the country.)

Despite searching throughout my old Aladdin catalogs, I have not been able to identify these Norfolk bungalows as Aladdin kit homes, but it’s possible that Aladdin created some custom designs for these large orders for Dupont.

The indefatigable researcher and fellow kit-home aficionado Mark Hardin just discovered an old article that states, “Late in the fall of 1918 the nearby munition plant (The Penniman plant in DuPont) began gradually to decrease its activities, and by March 1, 1919, there was quite an exodus of population from Williamsburg and the county…”  (The Great War ended in November 1918.)

The article goes on to say that the “ready cut houses” in Penniman “were knocked down and moved great distances on trucks and barges to many different localities, a number of them being most attractively re-erected in Williamsburg and the county.”

Here in Norfolk, we’ve long heard that our 16 bungalows arrived by barge. That old legend, coupled with the story above, suggests even more strongly that these houses were part of the 600+ houses that Dupont ordered from Aladdin sometime in the early 1910s.

Now it’s time for me to go to Williamsburg and see if I can find the rest of the collection. If anyone has any idea where I might start find early 1900s bungalows in Williamsburg, I’d be grateful to hear!

If you’ve any information to contribute, please post a note in the comment’s section below!

House

One of our mystery bungalows on 51st Street. Photo is courtesy of David Spriggs and may not be reused or reprinted without permission from David Spriggs.

Another

Good shot of the two bungalows on 51st Street. This photo is courtesy of David Spriggs and may not be reused or reprinted without permission from David Sprggs.

house

This is one of the houses in Riverview that's in mostly original condition. The little dormer on the side was added in later years.

Close-up of dormer

This dormer window is a pretty distinctive feature.

another Ethel

Another "Ethel Bungalow" in Riverview

porch

Close-up of the original porch railing.

Aladdin promoted itself to companies as a supplier of industrial housing. It was believed that providing housing for workers created a more stable workforce. And that was probably true.

Aladdin promoted itself to companies as a supplier of industrial housing. It was believed that if a company provided housing for its employees, this would create a more stable workforce. And that was probably true. Dupont turned to Aladdin to supply homes for Hopewell and Penniman, Virginia. (1919 Aladdin catalog)

To contact Rose, please leave a comment below.

To learn more about the kit homes in Norfolk, click here.

To learn more about Sears Homes, click here.

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Atlanta’s Amazing Abundance of Sears Homes

February 16th, 2011 Sears Homes 3 comments

For 12 years, I lived in Illinois and I spent many happy years seeking and finding kit homes throughout the Midwest. In 2006, I moved back “home” to Virginia, and I’ve spent subsequent years looking for kit homes in the south.

I’m surprised at how many I’ve found in this part of the country. An even bigger surprise was the abundance of kit homes I found during a brief trip to Atlanta. The houses pictured below are the tip of the iceberg, I’m sure. There just wasn’t time to cover the whole of Atlanta.

Take a look at the photos below and enjoy the many pretties of Atlanta!

Btw, if you know of a historical society and/or civic group that’d be interested in sponsoring my return to Atlanta, please leave a comment below.

Enjoy the photos!

And if you’d like to learn more about the kit homes in the south, click here.

Beautiful brick Alhambra in the heart of Atlanta!

This lovely brick Alhambra is located in the heart of Atlanta!

This was Aladdins fanciest home: The Villa

This was Aladdin's fanciest home: The Villa. This image is from the 1916 Aladdin catalog. Aladdin was a kit home company that (like Sears) also sold kit homes out of mail-order catalog. In Atlanta, I found more Aladdin kit homes than Sears kit homes. Not surprising, as Aladdin had a massive mill in North Carolina.

The Aladdin Villa in Atlanta! This may be the prettiest Aladdin Villa that I have ever seen.

The Aladdin Villa in Atlanta! And it's surely one of the prettiest Aladdin Villas that I have ever seen. It is perfect in every way, and a spot-on match to the original catalog image.

The Aladdin Pasadena was a very popular house

The Aladdin Pasadena was a very popular house

And heres the Aladdin Pasadena we found in Atlanta!

An Aladdin Pasadena on a main drag in Atlanta!

Aladdin Pomona, from the 1919 Aladdin Homes catalog

Aladdin Pomona, from the 1919 Aladdin Homes catalog

Aladdin Pomona in Acworth, a suburb of Atlanta

Aladdin Pomona in Acworth, a suburb of Atlanta. This Pomona is in beautifully original condition! Note the details around the porch gable, and the flared columns and the original siding. It's a real beauty. Unfortunately, I shot the photo when the sun was low in the sky. Hence, the long shadows.

The Sears Osborn from the 1921 Sears catalog

The Sears Osborn from the 1921 Sears catalog

One of our most interesting finds was the modern Sears Osborn. It looks like an Osborn - kind of - but its too new and modern. And look at the cornice returns. Most likely, this Sears Osborn is a reproduction, designed by someone who loves Sears Homes!

One of the most interesting finds was this contemporary Sears Osborn. It looks like an Osborn - kind of - but it's too new and modern. And look at the cornice returns. Most likely, this Sears Osborn is a reproduction, built by a real fan of Sears Homes!

One of my favorite photos is this Sears Magnolia in Alabama, just a few miles from the Georgia border!

One of my favorite photos is this Sears Magnolia in Alabama, just a few miles from the Georgia border. Apart from the slightly different dormer up top, this house is a good match to the catalog picture. No, it's not Atlanta, but it's pretty close! And there are only six known Magnolias in the whole country!

If you know anything more about these houses, please leave a comment below. Or if you’d like to contact Rose Thornton, please leave a comment.

If you’d like to keep reading about Sears Homes, click here.

To buy Rose’s book, click here.

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